2021 reading list (February)

Shan Shen
Published in
3 min readFeb 26, 2021


This month, I recommend three books that dive into our life through three distinctive lenses — business, community, and reality.

1. Business

The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy

The first book, The Airbnb Story, walks us through how Airbnb comes about and evolves into a company. The book was published in 2017; hence you won’t find a valid answer to explain Airbnb’s skyrocketing stock prices after its IPO in December 2020. By traveling back to the formative years of this company’s backstory, you’ll find joyful moments such as founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbla designed cereal boxes “Obama O’s” and “Cap’n McCain’s” to bring their short-rental business to profitability.

You’ll also find many controversies in Airbnb’s early growth tactics, handlings of guest identity scams, and legitimation of home-sharing business. What stroke me was this down-to-earth entrepreneurial attitude — ordinary people strive to build a sense of belonging into the core of their business to enable more people to explore belonging anywhere.

2. Community

Get Together: How to build a community with your people

The second book, named Get Together: How to build a community with your people, serves as a handbook for cultivating a community. The prompts, questions, and tips in the book are very hands-on on the practical side. For example, practices like rallying the right audience with an identified purpose, giving enough attention to what the community demands, and supercharging leaders are inspiring to keep in mind.

If you would like to jump right into take-aways, there is a three-page goodie checklist in this book to start the spin. My perspective is, a community resembles a houseplant. It takes time to form and needs great intent and care to grow. It’s not instant as creating an “r/” on Reddit to connect with similar minds.

3. Reality

Between the World and Me

The last book, Between the World and Me, has been collecting dust on my shelf for about a year. That’s right. I got it during the lockdowns in 2020, and I couldn’t read it through because of all the craziness throughout the year. As much as I think it’s not a book to read and learn only during black history month, this book is short, but it evokes so many emotions.

The author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, writes to his adolescent son about his feelings and realities of being black in the US. To prepare for his son’s transition to young adulthood, he reveals his deep concerns, worries, and insecurity he carries from his childhood. Safety — this word renders in such different meanings, from one pair of eyes to another. To extend contemplation from this book, check out the “Privilege Walk” exercise.

If you like this post, kindly share a clap 👏 or some thoughts 💬 with me! Obtaining an open heart for listening helps me learn. Writing for sharing is a part of this practice. Thanks for reading!



Shan Shen

Principal product designer at Custom Ink. I lead digital experiences in tech to empower communities and lifelong relationships. shanshenux.com